Book Review: The Dumbest Moments In Business History

Buy this Book More Executive Book Reviews

The Dumbest Moments in Business History
by Adam Horowitz and the editors of Business 2.0

Portfolio ©2004
161 pages

Signs of Unintelligent Life In the Workplace

The Dumbest Moments in Business History is a hilarious compilation of facts and quotes that span centuries and departments, from early capitalistic fiascos to modern fumbles by some of the highest-paid executives to fall flat on their faces. Adam Horowitz and others from Business 2.0 have culled a variety of goofs and gaffs from the annals of business history and created a nonstop cavalcade of business mistakes to be studied and avoided.

Included in this collection of the dumbest things that businesspeople have ever done (that did not kill anyone) are numerous funny anecdotes, each of which reveals a person or organization that should have known better, but didn’t. Valuable lessons can be learned from each of them about how not to conduct business.

Every year, the magazine Business 2.0 featuresthe “101 Dumbest Moments in Business.” The feature was so popular and generated so much publicity that the editors decided to make a book of these moments. To complete their collection, the editors contacted dozens of business professors, authors and experts to find out what they thought were the dumbest moments in business history, and whittled the list down to these. Categories include research and development, human resources, manufacturing and production, senior management, public relations, sales and marketing, accounting, legal, and information technology. No matter what part of business is being examined, there is an embarrassing yet funny tale to be told about someone who made a million-dollar (or more) mistake within it.

Stupid Mistakes

Every page of The Dumbest Moments in Business History holds a gasp linked to the ramifications of a stupid mistake, and a laugh because it was someone else who made it. Some of these stories have been seen before, such as the great quote from the 1899 commissioner of the Federal Office of Patents, Charles H. Duell, who declared, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Dumb moments in marketing include the 1999 campaign of K.E. and Kingstone, a Taiwanese company selling German space heaters, that featured a cartoon of Adolph Hitler making a Nazi salute and announcing, “Declare war on the cold front!” Both German and Jewish residents in Taipei, Taiwan, “expressed doubt that the sign was quite as tasteful as it might have been,” the authors write.

One great dumb moment in the legal category is described by a simple quote from Ivan Boesky, who in 1985 declared before a group of business school students at the University of California at Berkeley, “Greed is all right, by the way — I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” The authors point out that the following year, Boesky was busted in an insider trading scandal, served 18 months in prison, and was fined $100 million.

While presenting the dumbest moments in production, the authors describe a plaque that was created by Texas-based Merit Industries, that was intended for the actor James Earl Jones at an event honoring famous black Americans. The plaque read, “Thank you James Earl Ray for keeping the dream alive.” James Earl Ray, by the way, was Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin.

Expensive Pliers

Under research and development, the authors quote Pratt & Whitney spokesman Robert G. H. Carroll III, who in 1990 was asked to explain why the company charged the Air Force $999.20 for a pair of pliers. “They’re multipurpose — not only do they put the clips on, but they take them off.”

One of the most expensive acts of stupidity falls under the headline, “Oops. Lost $1.3 Billion. Destroyed a Venerable Bank. My Bad.” It seems that Barings Bank made a very expensive goof when it handed 26-year-old Nick Leeson the job of chief trader in Singapore. One year after his bosses put him in charge of the bank office there, he was scribbling a note on his desk that read, “I’m sorry,” and fleeing his job. It seems he had lost $1.3 billion in investors’ money by gambling that the Nikkei Index would not drop below 19,000, which it did after an earthquake devastated Kobe, Japan on Jan. 17, 1995. Leeson was arrested a week later and sentenced to six and a half years in prison. About 1,200 Barings employees lost their jobs, and Barings itself collapsed. ~

Why We Like This Book
The dark humor found throughout The Dumbest Moments in Business History, as well as the great headlines found over each entry, provide endless entertainment for anyone inside or outside the business world. The combination of smart-alecky hindsight and brilliant comic delivery provide countless chuckles that come at the expense of those who have paid dearly for their mistakes. The breadth of the gaffs and the long timeline from which they are drawn demonstrate how universal and timeless the humor of business blunders can be. Horowitz’s book demonstrates that getting enjoyment out of the giant acts of stupidity of others never gets old. ~

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.